It seems like only yesterday when Facebook emerged, bringing about the social media revolution. While many (like Myspace) tried to push the idea of social onto the world, Facebook seemed to have the community that enthralled people, and made them want participate in the newest digital hub. In the decade that followed, new channels such as Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, and others have brought new elements to the table. However, only with the onset of Snapchat, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger has the space been truly redefined.

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What’s new about these channels of course is privacy. Whatsapp and Snapchat were created for direct communication. There is no newsfeed or timeline. Nobody sees what you write unless you are writing directly to them, and shares are virtually untraceable. This trend of personal, direct communication is often referred to as “Dark Social”. These channels can be anything from Whatsapp to Snapchat, to email, Facebook Messenger, secure browsing and even organic search. Studies show that 70% of all social shares are dark. This shows private messaging channels are becoming more relevant to the average social media user, maybe more so than traditional social media avenues.

The rise of Dark Social is a true game-changer for all brands using social media. They are some of the fastest growing social channels, especially for young Millennials and Generation Z. Particularly Generation Z, born between 1996 and 2010, prefer instant messaging platforms over public social media, according to the Center of Generational Kinetics as quoted in a CBS News article from earlier this year. Having grown up in a reality defined by social media, fully aware of the pitfalls and risks, this generation is more aware of privacy concerns and thus utilize and understand Dark Social channels very well. They will bring about the future of social media marketing as well as social media customer service. It’s wise for innovative brands to get on board with these mature channels in order to stay ahead of the game.

Custom Content

While Facebook and others have algorithms that attempt to feed you only the most relevant content, dark social channels are able to take it a step further. Whatsapp allows brands to deliver specific articles, exclusive deals, and customized alerts to specific segments of their customers based on interest and/or location. As a result, they are able to engage directly with consumers using their particular push points and enjoy improved customer retention and loyalty as a result.

Greater Intimacy

Another huge benefit of dark social is the more intimate approach that one-on-one communication offers. Since many consumers feel the most comfortable in social media settings, for both their personal life and customer experiences, brands need to adapt and meet the consumer where they are. A socially mature brand will adopt a personal and authentic tone rather than an automated and cold one with canned responses. Customers want to feel a human connection that means you are there for them at the touch of a button, instantly available to solve their problems. With private communication channels, relationship building is significantly more meaningful.

Ramifications for Customer Service

The new social customer service scene exhibits the perfect balance between a human touch and efficient automation. Bots can easily be programmed to answer queries and handle customer complaints, which can help streamline CTAs, requests and complaints. Live (human) support should always be available yet bots can assist when a customer would like to make a purchase or a reservation, for example.

Forward Thinking Companies

Instead of trying to fit all consumers into a one-size-fits all customer service box, companies should expand their thinking and reward customers who elect to contact you on more mature, dark social channels. Take Adidas for example, known for being an early adopter in the new dark sharing frontier.

Adidas has been praised for its use of dark social channels to connect directly with customers and particularly making customers feel like VIPs. The company has brilliantly used their own sponsorship of huge sporting events to recruit fans turned “squads” then allow the squads to post, monitor and track, within dark social channels such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter Direct Message. To reward these dedicated squad members, they are the first to be invited to events and gain access to the brand’s ambassadors such as artists and athletes. Adidas isn’t only allowing personalization, they are turning their customers into brand ambassadors because of the special status and access that they’re given.

Sports site “For the Win” (which is owned by USA Today), has got on board with the private messaging sphere by adding a WhatsApp share option on it’s mobile site. According to Social Media Insider, this new feature prompted an 18% rise in the site’s overall sharing activity. They also found that dark social sharing beat out public sharing, 53% versus 47%, respectively. Simply put, the company saw a consumer need, acted on it and was instantly rewarded for it.

How to Move Ahead

The most successful companies adapt to their consumer needs and wants. The best companies (think Apple) convince their customers of what they need. Whether you are playing off of a current reality of the new private sharing world, or creating a new need for it, adapting to the changing climate is what’s important. Dark social channels create a sense of personalization and intimacy while providing an efficient and streamlined approach to customer service. Consumers are opting out of the traditional customer service of the past- listening to elevator music and pressing 0 over and over. They are efficiently using their mobile world to connect to companies, so the least that companies can do, is connect to them, on their level.